Apoloalypse not now!
I found the answer to a question that has been bugging me for some time this month. A man with a placard proclaiming "the end is nigh" on street corners has been a common sight in the world’s major cities for decades but for a reason that is not clear to me they seem to had all but disappeared. Then, inexplicably, the doomsayers returned with a vengeance this month, circling around the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) buried deep beneath the border of Switzerland and France. The LHC, we learnt, works a lot like the TV set you have in a living room. Except this one fires the electrons around a tube 27 miles in diameter at speeds close to the speed of light. If you smash two sets of these beams into each other, you’ll create all sorts of strange particles, and maybe the odd black hole.
It was the ‘black hole’ bit that sent the doomsayers into a frenzy. Those crazy geeks were going to send the world to oblivion and there was nothing we could all do but watch it happen live on TV. Well until that was sucked into the maelstrom presumably with you not far behind. Fortunately (depending on your point of view) the only actual black holes that appeared this month were in the ledgers of institutions that had once been seen as the financial pillars of the world’s economies. The ensuing shake-up may be a case of natural selection rather than particle physics, but the effects are sure to reverberate for years to come. When it was revealed that OfficeMax had $735 million in bond debt with stricken Lehman Brothers, the share price tumbled by 30 percent.
Fortunately before the placards could be dusted down in Naperville, Illinois, the price recovered amid a sigh of relief.
Volatility remains and the three big boxes in the US are all vulnerable in the current climate. As one market prophet said: one will underperform, one is a high-risk investment and the other has investor sentiment adversely affected by problems and poor execution of business strategy by current management.
I’ll leave the guess work for which one’s which to the soothsayers of you out there. Interestingly the same analyst said that the effect of the collapse of Lehman on OfficeMax would be "uncertain".
Which was probably the most honest prediction made in September. "The end of the world is uncertain" wouldn’t make much of a placard. Although it is the best we should hope for.